Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: January 6th, 2016
10:00 a.m.My Thoughts:
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.
The auditorium doors won't open.
Someone starts shooting.
Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.
"Everyone has a reason to fear the boy with the gun". That tagline got me right away and desperately made me want to read this one. Also, a couple of years ago I read Dave Cullen's Columbine, an incredibly detailed and thought out nonfiction book about the 1999 school shootings at Columbine high school. After reading that book, I have been increasingly interested about the way school shootings are covered in media (I am a film and media student), especially in United States.
Marieke Nijkamp's This Is Where It Ends takes the perspective of the students and focuses on a time period of 54 minutes within a school day. It is the first morning of a new semester, and after a welcoming assembly, things take a horrible turn. Most of the students are locked inside the auditorium. And then someone starts shooting.
When Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris opened fire at Columbine on April 20, 1999, killing 12 students and one teacher, I was 8 years old and on second grade of the Finnish schooling system. Back then, I probably had no idea what had happened. I really became aware of school shootings on a larger scale when the Virginia Tech shootings took place in 2007. Later in 2007, while I was living in United States, I got the news - there has been a school shooting in Finland. A phenomenon that I thought to be mostly American (how silly I was), had spread to Finland. Suddenly, schools started to feel very unsafe.
Though school shootings, unfortunately, take place all around the world, United States is the country with highest number of school-related shootings. I won't go into why that is (gun laws etc), but rather provide you with a hard fact: in 2014, there were about 40 school related shootings in United States. Though the horror and the panic of such situation is very difficult to grasp into without experiencing it first hand, I think Marieke Nijkamp does a good job in capturing the thoughts and feelings of the student inside and outside of the school that in such seconds changes from a haven of new learning to a war zone. Very quickly, all the students inside that auditorium know that though they will never be okay again, they still might have a possibility to survive and to keep living.
This Is Where It Ends alternates between different point of views. For example, there's Claire, a senior and a track runner, who ends up being outside the auditorium when the fire is opened. Then there's Matt, Claire's younger brother, who needs crutches to move around and who finds himself from the auditorium when the fire opens. Then there's Autumn, a girl who dreams of going to Julliard despite the fact that neither her father or her brother want her to leave town. Through these characters in addition to a few other students, Nijkamp narrates a very thorough account of the events that take place within those 54 minutes, allowing the reader to see the widespread terror of the situation. Also, there's a wide array of diversity in this one; PoC characters, disabled characters and LGBT characters. So if you are looking for diverse YA, look no further.
Nijkamp digs well into the small town mentality of the novel - Opportunity is a small community and things like school shootings are not meant to happen there. Nothing usually happens there. I especially liked the way Nijkamp incorporated into the story the question of whether this shooting, this completely random and horrible event, will define the town for a long time to come. Inevitably, yes. We know the Columbine shooting from the fact that the name of the school was Columbine High, not because it happened in Columbine, Colorado. Events such like these start to define places - one action can change everything. I think incorporating this to the story shows that Nijkamp really has attempted to insert herself to the mind of a student experiencing all of this horror.
I know I have mentioned Columbine several times, but I do have to mention it once more while discussing the way Nijkamp describes the shooter. After Columbine, when you see a school shooter in a film, he (most often it is a he) looks and acts a lot like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. What makes Columbine so important in relation to school shootings and the way they are described is the fact that it was so largely covered in the media that it worked as a catalyst for stereotypes: school shooters are loners, school shooters are megalomaniacs, school shooters listen to Marilyn Manson and wear long coats. Nijkamp does not fall to the Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold description, at least not too much. This shows research - she does not take the "easy" way out or go with the stereotypical description. Instead, she creates a character who inevitably shares something with the real school shooters, but who is also his own person with his own "reasons" for what he is doing.
I know this review ended up being much more fact-heavy than my other reviews. It is very difficult for me to write about this book without spoiling it for you, but this way I was able to do it. Also, I think going into this book with a little bit of background on the actual facts opens it up in a whole new way and makes the story seem even more harrowing. I cannot really say that I "enjoyed" this book because how can you enjoy a story like this? But I did find it intriguing, well-written and executed novel about an issue that we all should educate ourselves about. This novel will arguably be very controversial and there might be readers who think it is too detailed and too raw - this definitely isn't for everyone. But nevertheless, it is such an important book and one that you should keep in mind.
If you are interested about the way school shootings are portrayed in the media or just want to extent o the topic, I definitely recommend Dave Cullen's Columbine and Michael Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine.